Here we go. I’m a student, again.
Yes, that’s right, again.
I graduated a year ago from university and now I’m starting another program, at another school, in another city.
Okay, truth be told part of me is pretty excited, there are some pretty sweet parts of being a student, but there are also a lot of not so awesome parts, parts that are down right difficult.
Some moments, rather than focusing on the excitement of a second chance at student life (this time with less junk food and more studying), I am overwhelmed.
Where am I going to live? How am I going to get around? What do I need for classes? What courses do I need to take? What’s after graduation? Will I find a good community? How much will it all cost?
Student life, take two. Being a student again allows me to take a step back and remember the lessons I learned the first time around.
Stress changes nothing but affects everything
No one ever wakes up and decides, “You know, today I would love to be stressed. That sounds like a productive use of my day.”
If you do, we should chat. But seriously, stress creeps up on all of us. It begins as a soft grey cloud that calmly floats along unnoticed, but grows bigger and darker before it bursts—soaking us to the bone. STRESS STORM!
Stress affects us all differently. Some eat more, some eat less, some go into hyper-drive, and some shut-down. Stress brings me into an isolated place. I obsess to find a solution, I neglect my health, my sleep and my loved ones.
Uncertainty stretches us but it does not need to stress us
I never saw stress as something that could be avoided. “Some situations are down right stressful. They just are!” But after discussing it with a friend I realized that stress has a lot more to do with what’s going on inside my heart than it does with my circumstances.
My heart desires control.
When we are in control, we often have peace of mind. But throw in some unforeseen factors and the tension begins. Circumstances do not cause our responses, they expose what’s already there… sin. In the same way that filling a balloon will reveal a leak.
Our stress reveals the holes in our trust in God.
Do you have an anchor?
As those who have a personal relationship with Jesus we can experience a calm amidst the storm because of who we trust in. We are secured with an anchor. We may not know what lies ahead but God surely does.
Zip-lining in Costa Rica taught me this very important lesson. It’s not how much feeling of faith you have that matters, what matters is what your harness is secured to. Does my life look different because I am secured to an unshakable anchor? Do we who have a secure hope look different than those with no anchor?
Yes, circumstances can stretch us.
Circumstances can challenge us but they do not need to shake our peace.
I need to check my heart
It does not matter how often I hear this verse, I am continually challenged by it.
Let’s look at it together:
“Do not be anxious
BUT in everything
let your requests be made known to God.
And the Peace
which surpasses all understand,
your hearts and minds
in Christ Jesus.” Philippians 4: 6 – 7 (ESV, emphasis my own)
Reading this is hard to swallow. My heart wants to add so many footnotes:
Don’t be anxious………………………….. except sometimes, it’s unavoidable
about anything……………………………. unless it’s really challenging
But in everything………………………… only when it’s desperate
By prayer………………………………….. if all else fails
These footnotes are evidence of my heart’s condition. I look to myself for answers and not to God. Trusting in the little that I can do and not waiting on God to move.
The key to doing things differently is to not trust in my own harness in the midst of uncertainty but to trust who I’m anchored to.
How to find Spirit-filled stillness
So how can we move past our stress-filled responses and learn to walk in the Spirit day by day? Here are three practices that have helped me.
1. Pray in advance
I’ve found it incredibly helpful to pray before a difficult conversation I know I am about to have or a situation I know I may find overwhelming. I often ask God to give me grace, patience and wisdom and to use the circumstance to grow me in my Christ-likeness and relationship with him.
2. Build a rhythm of accountability
Journeying with another is one of those gifts in life that facilitates growth. As I share with a mentor or a good friend about a stretching circumstance or those that are approaching, I am able to gain better perspective on them and learn to react in wisdom. Sharing with others helps me process and their advice and prayer encourages me into action.
3. Be still
Learning to pause, breath and unload the weight on your shoulders is an important habit. We have a God who hears us, who cares for us and desires to carry our burdens. Stopping in the midst of an overwhelming situation and focusing on who God is, is a way to take our eyes off of the size of our situation and look to the size of our God.
Reflecting on what I’ve learned, I am encouraged to look ahead. I know that in each step clinging to these lessons is essential. Uncertainty will always be a challenge; I crave control, but in these moments I must look back and remind myself of who God is and has always been—faithful. I trust that He is my anchor in every storm.
“How we wait is one of the clearest indicators of our understanding of who God is.”
– Rodney Anderson